While practicing gratitude is an important value in my life, for personal reasons, Thanksgiving has never been my favorite. In fact, on a holiday ranking scale, Thanksgiving would be at the bottom for me. However, I would never turn down time off in November to reflect and recharge, so I’m grateful for that! If you find yourself needing to fill a day or two before your much deserved fall break, here are some ELA Thanksgiving activities for middle school and high School English class.
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Play a Thanksgiving Themed Podcast
Podcasts are my favorite seasonal ELA activity because they provide something meaningful yet effortless– just pass out a podcast coloring page then hit play! You can find my “Hit Play Podcast Plans” here: Holiday, Valentine’s Day, 9/11, Halloween. For Thanksgiving podcast recommendations for the classroom, here are a few I have previewed:
Secondary Thanksgiving Podcasts:
“Listen Again: The Gratitude Chain” from TED Radio Hour or original here “A.J. Jacobs: What’s The Power Of A Simple Thank-You” with the transcript posted below the media player (just hit the button with the lines). This episode is 58 minutes long, but it has natural stopping points if you want to shorten it.
Similar to the TED Talk platform, the TED Radio Hour podcast explores important topics in an insightful way. This specific episode uses a single thing (one cup of coffee) to investigate gratitude in a world on autopilot. I personally got so much out of this episode and loved how they revisited powerful TED talks like “The Danger of a Single Story” to delve into the practice of thankfulness!
ELA Thanksgiving Activities: If you have the means, time, and energy to be extra, a perfect Thanksgiving treat would be to provide coffee, tea, or hot chocolate at the start of class and let students think about the gratitude chain as they sip and listen. Another idea would be to have students think of one item they take for granted and start a gratitude chain for this item listing all the people they should thank. A third activity option would be to assign a podcast page from this pack: Podcasts in the classroom BUNDLE
*Warning: This episode does give different religious perspectives around minute 41 (atheism, agnosticism), then talks about “sperm” after that (in the context of being grateful we exist), and lastly uses the words “pot” and “asshole” after minute 41 as well so use your own judgement based on your audience.
“ThanksTaking or ThanksGiving?” from the All my Relations Podcast (transcript here)Hosted by two Indigenous authors and creators, this episode explores Thanksgiving through a cultural lens and multiple perspectives. While the episode is a little lengthy for classroom use, there are several natural stopping points throughout. However, I encourage you to listen to the conclusion because they do a beautiful job of asking the episode title: this season, will you be ThanksGIVING or ThanksTAKING?
ELA Thanksgiving Activities: Have students research whose Native land they are on using this website. Ask students to reflect on how this episode has confirmed, challenged, or changed how they view Thanksgiving. Have students closely reread the SINGLE paragraph we have about “the first Thanksgiving” and discuss how that paragraph has ballooned into what we have today. Have students reflect on how they might better focus on the “giving” part of Thanksgiving. If you have my Native American Issues Unit, this podcast pairs perfectly with the early American themes within!
*Warning: Please preview and make your own judgment. It does get into “illegal” immigration around minute 30, and while the overall theme is one of unity, it does discuss hard history. Also, it uses the word “shit stain” in the later half as well.
Elementary Thanksgiving Podcast:
For my elementary English teachers, try “The Science of Your Favorite Foods” by Tumble. It’s a cute episode about what types of food kids like and the science behind individual tastes. You could easily tie this to a Thanksgiving theme by listing traditional Thanksgiving food and having students write about the one they like and dislike the most and why.
Be sure to sign up for my Building Book Love Letter to get your FREE Thanksgiving Podcast Pages! These are perfect for helping students focus while listening to podcasts and will add a easy printable to your ELA Thanksgiving activities toolkit.
Write a Thank You Letter to a Book:
As an English educator and book lover, I have a long list of books for which I am thankful. For example, the book Educating Esme pulled me out of the despair of failure my first year of teaching, and once I was in the mindset to try again, Harry Wong’s First Days set me back on the path of success. I’m so grateful for these two books; they truly saved my career in education.
I think it would make a powerful Thanksgiving bulletin board to have staff pictures take a selfie with a book and write a little note of gratitude for it. Tag me @BuildingBookLove if you make it happen! I would love to see! As for a classroom ELA Thanksgiving activity, you can have students write a thank you note to the class novel you are reading or to their free choice book. I did this prompt for Animal Farm and was so impressed by the responses!
You can get my letters to a book templates here! I have some for all kinds of literary occasions so you can use them any time of year, not just at Thanksgiving.
Watch a Thanksgiving TED Talk:
When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of gratitude. While there are several TED Talks about the power of gratitude, I want to point you to a fellow educator friend and her powerful talk, “Kiss your brain: The science of gratitude” by Christina Costa. I have been following Christina for years and have been in awe of her perseverance. This talk is perfect for the classroom because she discusses “kissing your brain” and being thankful for the amazing things it can do. Go watch! For an ELA Thanksgiving activity to use with this one, have students reflect on what they are thankful their brain accomplished or learned this school year so far then give it a kiss as they walk out the door for Thanksgiving break.
Read A Modest Proposal
It’s a personal evil joke of mine to have students read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” right before Thanksgiving Break (mWahahaha). I love that all the food talk grosses them out while also engaging them in a dark twisted way. I also appreciate that it provides a fun built-in mini project that helps them to connect Swift’s historic satire to the present. You can find my lesson here: A Modest Proposal Satire Study: Teaching Satire with Examples
Plan a Literary Dinner Party
Speaking of literary foodstuff, you can have your students plan a dinner party for ANY book. From the ambience (mood) to the menu selection (symbolism), hosting an imaginary (or real!) literary dinner party is a fun way to celebrate reading around the holidays. You can find my Character Dinner Party resource here: Thanksgiving Writing Activity: Dinner Party Analysis for ANY Character!
Here’s what another teacher had to say about this ELA Thanksgiving activity: “Very thorough and rewarding. The students barely knew how hard they were working the few days before break! 🙂 I used this as a “Christmas/holiday” dinner and it worked great. Thank you!”
Create a Literary Pie Chart
One thing that I can get on board with when it comes to Thanksgiving is pumpkin pie! You can create a fun Thanksgiving ELA activity by having students create a literary pie chart like SparkNotes shows here: All The Books On Your English Syllabus Summed Up In Pie Charts
You could use this same summary strategy or one of these literary pie graph ideas:
- Chart the use of rhetoric (Study Ethos, Pathos, Logos and then ask what does the breakdown reveal about the target audience?)
- Chart the use of symbols (for example, which symbol is mentioned the most in Lord of the Flies, the couch, the fire, or the glasses and what does this reveal?)
- Chart the development of theme (for example, if a book has multiple themes, how much of the text is devoted to developing that theme and what is the specific evidence?)
If you put students in groups to make their charts, you can give them colored markers to match their group names such as orange = pumpkin pie chart group, blue = blueberry pie chart group, etc. bonus points if you use scented markers! I know it sounds silly, but as we write in our book Keeping the Wonder: An Educator’s Guide to Magical, Engaging, and Joyful Learning, little flashbulb props like these go a long way in keeping the wonder in learning.
If you want more literary chart examples and ideas, keep reading here: Literary Charts: Interdisciplinary ELA Activities
I hope these ELA Thanksgiving activities make your lesson planning a little easier this November so that you can keep students engaged while also setting yourself up for a restful fall break. I am truly grateful that you took the time to read my blog. Thank you for being here and for all you do!
If you want to get a jump start on planning your content for December, these posts will help: